Why opinion is shifting on same-sex marriage

And what the Supreme Court decisions next week will mean Photo: Jamison Wieser

WASHINGTON,  March 21, 2013 – Views on same-sex marriage have been rapidly shifting in the U.S.  From politicians coming out in favor of marriage equality to growing portrayal of homosexuality in the media, popular opinion is decidedly changing. Two separate national surveys conducted earlier this month confirm rising support for gay marriage and homosexuality in general among Americans. 

Why and how are attitudes shifting?

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Politicians and public figures now regularly support same-sex marriage.  Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton are only a few examples.  Even some Republicans like Dick Cheney and Rob Portman have voiced their support for gay marriage.  Though the core of the Republican Party still opposes gay marriage, their arguments have grown less passionate, focusing more on the legality rather than the morality of the issue.

The change in attitude toward same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general can also be seen among Americans in general. Two national surveys, one performed on March 7- 10, 2013 by ABC News/ Washington Post, and another on March 13-17, 2013 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, show growing support across the board for same-sex marriage in America.

Both surveys found support for gay marriage rose significantly over the last decade.

Pew’s national survey found that while 58% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and only 33% supported it in 2003, the figures flipped in 2013, when 49% of those polled supported gay marriage while 44% opposed it.  ABC news found similar results: while 37% of Americans supported gay marriage in 2003, the number rose to 58% in 2013 (the 7% discrepancy between the polls is attributed to the wording of the questions).

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Pew Research Center

Whatever the poll, however, public acceptance on gay marriage is on the rise.  According to Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center, the shift is primarily driven by two factors: the arrival of a new generation of adults born after 1980, and a change of heart in people of all ages.

1.  Younger generations are more tolerant: Younger generations of Americans are more open to the idea of same-sex marriage.  Indeed, the PEW survey found that 70% of people born after 1980 (ages 18-32) support gay marriage.  The ABC poll found similar results, 81% of people younger than 30 support gay marriage compared to 44% of seniors. 

“Basically, every 10 years younger a person is, they’re about seven points more likely to support same-sex marriage,” says Greg Lewis, policy studies professor at Georgia State University.  “People born since 1980 are about 35 points more likely to support marriage than people born before 1930.” 

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2.  Americans of all ages are changing their minds in favor of same-sex marriage:

PEW Research Center

Regardless of age, the PEW survey found that 14% of all Americans (28% of same-sex marriage supporters) changed their minds in favor of gay marriage.  There were several reasons for this change.  For some (32%), the change was due to knowing someone who is homosexual; others (25%) reported having grown more open, given the issue more thought, or gotten older.  Still others cited that the change was inevitable, the world is different, the belief that everyone is free to choose, love, happiness, and equal rights.  The survey found that younger generations were more likely to change their minds about same sex marriage and homosexuality in general, while older generations tended to change their position less. 

The shift in opinion is also divided along political and religious lines.  For example, liberals, Democrats, moderates, and independents are more quickly shifting toward supporting same-sex marriage than are conservatives and Republicans.  On the religious front, while 56% of Americans believe that gay marriage would go against their religion, Catholics and Protestants are more in favor of gay marriage and tolerant of homosexuality than are evangelical Protestants.  

The Supreme Court decides next week

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor, challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act respectively, and several commentators have predicted the Court will rule both unconstitutional. 

Even if the Court rules in support of same-sex marriage, it may not end the discussion. The ruling may follow the example of Loving v. Virginia, which definitively ended the debate on interracial marriage. On the other hand, it may mirror Roe v. Wade, which issued a legal ruling on abortion but in many ways inflamed public debate and increased divisiveness on the issue.

Regardless of the Supreme Court Ruling, America is becoming more accepting of same-sex marriage.

There is no question that many opponents of same-sex marriage are holding firm in their beliefs.  However, it is unlikely that public sentiment will shift against gay marriage in the future.  As the more tolerant younger generations grow older and more numerous, and the older less flexible generations die off, support for gay marriage and homosexual rights in general is bound to grow.  


READ MORE: A World in Our Backyard by Laura Sesana

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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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